LIGHTNING 2, HURRICANES 2: Tampa Bay can't get the winner past ex-teammate Kevin Weekes and now sits one out of first.
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 22, 2003
RALEIGH, N.C. -- It was like one of those crazy dreams in which you are running as hard as you can but can't seem to get anywhere. Transfer that to a hockey game, and you have the Lightning's 2-2 tie with the Hurricanes on Friday at the RBC Center.
Tampa Bay's collective arms were pumping, and its legs were churning. But it just could not get to the finish line; that being a tie with the Capitals for first place in the Southeast, which a victory would have provided.
The biggest obstacle was Carolina goaltender Kevin Weekes, who made 34 saves against his former teammates, including seven in overtime.
But when the Lightning looks back at this game, as much as it praises Weekes and acknowledges Vinny Prospal's first multigoal game of the season, it will kick itself for missing a myriad of opportunities.
"We had plenty of opportunities," center Vinny Lecavalier said. "Kevin is a great goaltender. He played a great game, but we still should have ended it in overtime."
Lecavalier and Brad Richards failed on breakaways during the extra period. Weekes stopped Lecavalier on a two-on-one with 58 seconds left. And Martin St. Louis, alone in front, sent a backhander over the net with 43 seconds left.
Overtime was a continuation of what went on during the third period. Less than a minute after Carolina's Jeff O'Neill scored his 24th goal to tie the score with 9:48 left, Prospal had what seemed like forever to line up Weekes but was stopped.
Dave Andreychuk hit the outside of the post with 5:22 left, and Fredrik Modin's blast from the slot was stopped with 1:24 left.
"We had the right guys in the right situations," coach John Tortorella said. "Kevin made some big saves. I thought Marty's was in, and he shot it wide. So Weekes made some big saves. It certainly wasn't through lack of effort from our club."
The Lightning's 65 points are one behind Washington with a game in hand. It also moved to seventh in the East, one point ahead of the Bruins, who lost to the Devils, and one point behind the Islanders, who beat the Avalanche.
"It would have been nice to have another goal," goalie Nikolai Khabibulin said. "At the same time, every point is very important. We came here and got one point. At this time of year, you have to be positive."
Okay, the positives:
The Lightning finished the season series against the defending East champions 3-0-2 and is 3-0-2 in its past five games, though it lost its three-game win streak. Prospal has 15 goals and a career-high 56 points, surpassing last season's 55.
He got a gift on his first goal 17 seconds into the game. Lecavalier dumped the puck into the corner, and it deflected to Weekes, who whiffed when he tried to play it. Prospal then put it into an empty net.
It was Tampa Bay's second-fastest goal to start a game this season, five seconds slower than Cory Sarich's Dec. 14 against the Islanders.
"It wasn't good," Weekes said. "I tried to do three things on one play. I should have tried to make the easy play."
Prospal's second goal came on a four-on-three power play with 2:32 left in the second period and gave the Lightning a 2-1 lead. But Carolina tied it on a sequence that began with right wing Nikita Alexeev failing to clear the puck from the defensive zone and ended with Khabibulin failing to stop O'Neill's deflection of Ryan Bayda's pass.
Khabibulin made some brilliant saves in the third period and stopped David Tanabe's slap shot at the overtime buzzer. But he lost his two-game win streak on a shot he probably should have stopped.
"It's hard to say," Khabibulin said. "I even thought it was going to go wide. The guy just threw the puck on net. I put my glove down and tried to steer it to the other corner, and he just stuck his stick there."
Still, Tampa Bay had its chances.
"We had a lot of opportunities," Andreychuk said. "We need to score on those. But the chances are there and that's good."
He's not dreaming.